THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ANOMALOUS EXPERIENCE

Graham Reed

Prometheus Books, New York, 1988.


In what is a book on abnormal psychology, Reed contrasts his approach with that of mainstream psychiatry, which focuses on the content rather than the form of experience, and takes his lead from the phenomenological school of Karl Jaspers.

The odd experiences covered here concern attention; imagery, perception and hallucinations; recall and recognition; experience of the self; judgement and belief; consciousness and its rate of flow. The chapter on attention includes the "time gap" experience, where motorists report "lost time" after a long drive, a phenomenon sometimes mentioned in UFO stories.

Discussing anomalies of recall, Reed explains the hypothesized role of schemata:

"We do not revive inert items of information, or draw them intact from some storehouse. We reconstruct them by drawing upon appropriate schemata - the cognitive structures into which the items were originally assimilated... What we recall are the relevant cognitive frameworks... from which we can reconstruct facsimiles of the original items. The schemata, of course, are themselves the dynamic integration of items of information." (p.72)

Needless to say, this concern with schemata is of great interest on this site, as is his application of the concept to delusions:

"Delusional experience is the outcome of a loosening of the normal organization of cognitive structures - a shift in the relationships between schemata, as opposed to anomalies in the content of schemata themselves." (p.158)

The discussion of recall is fascinating, and UFOs whirl into view again:

"Every time one person is reported as having seen a ghost or a flying saucer, a crowd of others suddenly 'remember' that they too witnessed the phenomenon." (p.83)

Concluding the study, Reed stresses the value of acknowledging that our experience is constructed:

"At all levels of cognitive activity we seem to operate by setting up and testing hypotheses, by problem-solving and by selecting strategies... Once this view is accepted, many of our 'anomalous' experiences suddenly seem much less sinister and inexplicable... It is no longer mystifying that our recollections of a place or a person may turn out to be sadly amiss." (p.192)

Finally, let us contemplate a Chinese cultural syndrome which has thus far not been met with the giddy embrace that Feng Shui enjoys:

"Koro [which occurs among some southern Chinese communities] is a state of acute anxiety and partial depersonalization in which the sufferer is convinced that his/her genitalia are shrivelling into non-existence. It is reported that male patients rush to their doctors in extreme panic, complaining that their penises are disappearing. Such a patient may be accompanied by his wife or a friend whom he has induced to hang on to his penis to prevent it shrinking out of sight. Or he may have anchored it by lashing it to a heavy object, a jeweller's weight-box being a popular anchor." (p.129)

Or a set of wind-chimes?



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PSYCHOLOGY OF BELIEF AND SUPERSTITION



Paul Taylor 2001